REVIEW: “The Post”

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Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” is set in an era when the media (generally speaking) wasn’t egregiously compromised by the political pulls of the left or the right. It was a time (more often than today) when principle took precedent over ideology and the media took seriously the role of equally holding all elected officials accountable to the people. There is far less of that today, although I’m not sure Spielberg and company would agree with me.

“The Post” starts in 1965 with war analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) discovering government deception concerning Vietnam policy and progress. The story bolts forward a few years with Ellsberg stealing classified documents that reveal years of misinformation by the government dating all the way back to the Truman administration. He leaks the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times who run a front page expose before having their story shut down by a court injunction.

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All of that is setup for the meat of the story which takes place in 1971, Washington D.C. Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) has inherited The Washington Post newspaper following her husband’s suicide, but serving as its publisher and president has been a tough ride. Not counting her own personal lack of confidence, she’s also forced to navigate several obstacles from insecure board members to investors uncomfortable with a woman running the company. For the bulk of the film Spielberg does a good job tapping into the current red-hot women’s issues. It’s later that he moves from effectively showing us the inequality to spelling it out for us. But more on that later.

Her go-getter editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) knows there is more to uncover so he sends his crack assistant editor Ben Bagdikian (a really good Bob Odenkirk) to track down the New York Times’ source. And when sensitive documents fall into their lap, Katharine must decide whether to let Bradlee print the story risking incarceration and the livelihood of her paper.

Spielberg deftly bounces between Katharine’s personal journey and Bradlee’s newsroom. Both are given plenty of time to unfold and develop. As you would expect, Streep is very good and completely in her element. It isn’t an extraordinary performance, but it’s work from her that we sometimes take for granted. Hanks is a different story. It’s not that he’s bad here. He feels off – as if he’s really stretching to sell us a character that Jason Robards did better (and won an Oscar for) 42 years ago.

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Katharine’s stirring story and the thrilling newsroom drama come together in a tense and powerful meeting of the minds (and wills) which Spielberg unpacks to near perfection. But then something happens in the final fifteen minutes or so. In rapid succession the film begins dropping one corny, contrived ‘movie moment’ after another. Storytelling gives way to speechifying and the movie’s themes (previously explored through the story itself) are propped up by glaringly obvious scenes manufactured to the point of phoniness. And then you have Spielberg often straining to make a connection between the Nixon and Trump administration. Again, the material is there, but Spielberg sometimes feels the need to speak for it.

“The Post” does far more right than wrong. For a good three-quarters of his movie Spielberg brilliantly balanced two very different but equally enthralling stories. And for a while I was seeing it as a wonderful “All the President’s Men” companion piece. It’s just a shame the final act resorts to cheap scenes and sappy speeches that seem directly aimed at Oscar voters. But as his movie had already shown, Spielberg didn’t need all of that and the bulk of the picture is an enthralling experience.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

3-5-stars

14 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Post”

  1. It really does stumble into misplaced patriotic Americana in its final act. Pretty much once the film hits the Supreme Court things seem to nose-dive.

  2. “Storytelling gives way to speechifying and the movie’s themes are propped up by glaringly obvious scenes manufactured to the point of phoniness.” Whew! I’m glad it isn’t just me souring on the film’s really blatant and cheese-tastic final moments. That sounds harsh and maybe is, but with the talent involved i expected to be blown away by this. Not intrigued and then bored by. I’m cooler on this than you are, but I definitely did enjoy the tango Meryl and Tom do. And I actually really went for this harder side of Hanks. It was different. Perhaps in more than one way, though.

    • Oh that last act really takes a weird turn. And it’s such a jarring clash with what came before it. I’m not sure if Spielberg didn’t have faith in his material or if he didn’t have faith in us getting it. Whatever the case he spoon-fed his audience the entire final 15 minutes. As for Hanks, I don’t think he was bad. He just felt off. Not sure if it was that thing he was doing with his voice or something else. Haven’t been able to put my finger on it.

  3. It’s funny that you made the connection to All the President’s Men. I thought the same thing, except I didn’t find The Post nearly as riveting. It was a good one-time watch, but it’s hard to want to revisit it ever again when a better version of it already exists, so to speak.

    • This could almost be a prequel to “Presidents Men”. I was pretty glued to it until it turned schmaltzy. Not sure why it had to go in that direction.

  4. I’m glad to see this one is worth a watch! I thought anything starring both Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep would be a winner for sure, but I was worried that they might be the only selling point.

    • It’s definitely worth seeing. In fact, it’s absolutely brilliant up to a point. They get sloppy at the end but it doesn’t overthrow all it does right.

  5. It was a little hard for me to get into this movie at first, but it got a lot better as it got into the meat of the story I thought. I loved it when Katharine finally found her voice toward the end there. I totally agree about the ending – the message wasn’t lost on me even a little bit haha. Another great review Keith! 🙂

  6. The combination of Hanks, Streep and Spielberg is enough to draw me in. A very thorough review my friend. The movie has just been released where I am and I’m trying to find time to see it.

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